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Sunday, December 14th 2014


Third Sunday of Advent

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: As always, trying to learn patience
  • IN THE BACKDROP: The Librarians

It’s the third Sunday of Advent. Time to light the third candle, the one farthest to the right. Click your mouse cursor in the vicinity of its wick, and it shall come on. Or, as on the other pictures, click anywhere on the picture to return to the previous state. Well, as the dental assistant told me last spring, “You know the drill.”

The weather pattern so far is much milder than last year when we already got a solid taste of January in December. Not this year. After some fairly chilly days, the current pattern is above freezing during the day and dipping just below freezing at night. That pattern of temperatures engenders a constant thick cloud cover. Every once in a while the sun peaks out for a moment, but then lets itself get shrouded again.

I’m still recovering, and June is getting ready for surgery on her right eye on Tuesday. So, for the moment I’m not filled with conceptual thoughts wanting to spill over on this blog. 

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Thursday, December 11th 2014


Update from Home

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: depleted, but good
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Agents of Shield

First of all, a big “Thank you!” for all of the good wishes and prayers for June and me during my current health escapades and her procedures. It sure has meant a lot to to have all of those messages on FB! I finally got to go home on Tuesday afternoon after overcoming some more complications after the surgery. It’ll be a while before I’ve regained my normal amount of energy and initiative, such as it is. 

In case you didn’t see my FB notices, today June had the first of her cagaract surgeries, this one for the left eye. The procedure was done with lasers and included lens replacements. Seth picked her up here at 7 am (I’m not ready yet for that amount of driving and being out), and they were back by noon. For a few days her vision in that eye will be blurry. We followed the suggestion of her nurse, and I took the left lens out of her glasses. That way the right eye, which wasn’t as bad and doesn’t get its turn until next week, gets the benefit of its half of the glasses while the left one gains its new super powers.

Given the circumstances, I’m not up to writing longish blog entries. But one thing we need to keep up with is the advent wreath since we have already been in the second week since Sunday. One candle is already burning; touch the one to the right of it with your mouse cursor in the vicinity of the wick to make it light up. If you want to do it again, touch anywhere in the picture to snuff the candle and light it again.

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Thursday, December 4th 2014


The View from Room 560

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: hospitalized
  • IN THE BACKDROP: The tick-tick of the IV pump

The View from Room 560

View from Hospital

It’s Thursday afternoon as I begin this entry. We’ll see how far I get. My thoughts aren’t exactly focused, and for the moment setting out to write a simple blog seems like I’m about to climb a huge mountain. I’m in room 560 of Community Hospital, Anderson, and have been NPO ever since Monday evening. In case hospital jargon is new to you, NPO means nihil per os, which translates into “nothing by mouth.” In other words, I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for several days now, other than a few sips of water to take my medications and the occasional ice chip. But not to worry, I’m hooked up to an IV that faithfully trickles saline solution into my body.

In order to explain what I’m doing here I need to confess that I was wrong in an earlier entry. Back in the middle of October I wrote that I had experienced the original Platonic Stomach Ache that serves as template for all other stomach aches. Furthermore, I asserted that, nevertheless, it was nothing serious. Neither statement turns out to have been true. The stomach aches (or, really, pains) continued and got worse with each episode. Compared to the pain I got on Monday afternoon, that one in October was a mere nominalist “puff of air.”

Needless to say, I attempted to tough it out at home, but it got so bad that I actually had to get rational, and we headed off to the hospital emergency room. They had better testing facilities and more experience than the walk-in clinic, and it did not take them too long to diagnose acute pancreatitis.

I won’t bother you with all of the medical things I learned over the last few days, let alone describe all of the tests and treatments I’ve been allowed to enjoy. Suffice it to say that the first step in treating pancreatitis is to give the pancreas some rest, which is accomplished by having the patient go without food or drink for several days. It is also a good idea to stop the pain, and so I’ve had quite a few morphine shots since I was first admitted here. Then a reasonable next step is to address the underlying factor that precipitated the inflammation.

Pancreatitis can have many causes, but, roughly speaking, if it hasn’t been caused by excessive alcohol consumption, chances are good that it was triggered by a gall stone that found its way into the pancreas, which the well-bred pancreas would consider an intrusion on its domestic tranquility. The job of the pancreas is to provide digestive enzymes, and when it gets annoyed it may start to apply them to itself, and voilà, we have pancreatitis. In the case of your abstemious bloggist the underlying cause is, indeed, gall stones. Now, since the inflammation has gone down quite a bit, I am scheduled to have my gall bladder removed tomorrow (Friday) around noon. That doesn’t mean that the pancreas will instantaneously be all better, but the scenario that occasioned the original inflammation will no longer be in place.

Part of what has made this experience a little stressful—other than the obvious aspects—has been trying to get June’s medical needs taken care of. A week from today she is scheduled to have cataract surgery on one eye, with the other one the following week. She had three appointments this week: at the eye doctor’s to have her eyes measured for implant lenses, at this hospital for a follow-up mammogram and ultra-sound because once again there were cysts, and at the lab of the other hospital in town (St. John’s) for her pre-surgery labs and EKG. The eye-measuring appointment was on Monday, and it was the late lunch at a hamburger chain that made my pancreas so angry. Then on Tuesday the mammogram follow-up was here at Community, and that worked out fine in several ways. Most importantly, after the mammogram retakes before the ultra-sound, the doctor declared that nothing had changed since she went through the same regimen two years ago, and there was no call for any more tests. Yes! Then today she needed to be at St. John’s for her pre-op labs. Given the eye condition for which she’s getting surgery, neither one of us has been thrilled with the prospect of her driving at all. At least the way home is basically a straight country road, but St. John’s is a whole lot more complicated. Meghan was nice enough to come down here to this hospital to drive her to the other one (and back).

Entailed in that last sentence is an observation on how different hospital are now, compared to forty years ago when June and I worked at St. Catherine’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin. June has basically moved into this room with me, and she brings in her own food for her meals. She could have had a cot to sleep on, but prefers the recliner already in the room. She even was able to order a guest tray of hospital food, an experiment that we won’t repeat. I mean, hospital food still is hospital food. Maybe tomorrow after the surgery I’ll get to taste some of that yummy hospital jello.

The hospital has free wifi, but there are restriction on how much of a slice of their bandwith one may take. Hope this will turn out.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

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Sunday, November 30th 2014


First Sunday of Advent

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Okay, coming down from a headache
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Football. New England vs. Green Bay

Today is the first Sunday of advent. The countdown to Christmas has begun. Advent is the beginning of the official church year, the time of preparation for the coming of Christ. I'm not big on liturgical calendars and the like, though it helps us focus on the events in the life of Christ that were a part of God's plan of salvation. Also, while we're on the subject, there are times when a liturgical worship service can liberate us from the incessant talking and announcements that can characterize a non-liturgical worship service.

One of the items connected to the observance of advent is the advent wreath. Each advent Sunday we can light one more candle on the wreath, so we have one candle on the first Sunday, two on the second, etc. Let's light the first candle on the advent wreath below. Click with your mouse cursor around the wick of the cande furthest to the left, and the flame will come on. If you want to put it out again, take a deep breath and blow on the picture while clicking anywhere on it. (Actually, the blowing is not entirely necessary, but it should contribute to the realism of the event, and, if there are other people around you, observing you making like a hurricane on your computer screen, they might just start giving you the attention you deserve.)

Seth, Haven, and Tolyn

Though my family was Baptist and not liturgical, advent was always a great time when I was yet a child in Germany. On as many evenings as possible throughout that season, we (i.e. my mom and dad, my two brothers, and your youthful pre- bloggist) would sit around the advent wreath and sing advent songs, leading to Christmas carols as the time got closer. (I don't know any English advent songs.) When June and I got married, the tradition was new to her, of course, but she liked it, and so we continued it with our boys as well--while they still were boys.

On another subject, congratulations to Seth & Amber's Great Dane Haven for having achieved the rank of champion by winning "Best of Winners" yesterday. She was handled by Patrice Lawrence, who is a multiple winner herself. Her official name (i.e. Haven's, not Patrice's) now is prefixed by the letters CH, thus reading CH Bayside's One Accord At Owlwatch. Also, Amber handled Haven's offspring, Tolyn, who finished first in the baby division.

Luke Bible Study

Read the Text!

Bible Reading:
Luke 19:47-48

v. 47a: Every day He was teaching in the temple complex. (HCSB)

Events were clearly coming to a climax in the life of Jesus. Now that he was in Jerusalem as a public persona, the final confrontation with the authorities had become inevitable. I can't help but think back of the time a few decades earlier when Jesus was only twelve years old and was amazing the religious scholars with his knowledge and insights. Of the temple he had said back then that it was his father's house. In the rather public set-to with the religious merchants, he quoted from Isaiah 56:7 "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations," and Jeremiah 7:11 "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view?" Jesus was speaking and acting as though the temple was his own residence. The first verse would have offended those Jews whose beliefs had no place for the inclusion of Gentiles in God's convenant. The second one did not refer to dishonest business practices but to "stealing God's temple," as it were, by trusting in the place and its rituals, while not caring about the Lord himself. These were not conciliatory thoughts.

The priests and the scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees, who were frequently at odds with each other, not to mention their internal disagreements, were coming together to make common cause against Jesus. As I've conjectured frequently, the experts on the Law were thinking of Jesus as the false prophet against whom Deuteronomy 13 had warned. The priests were fearing that the Jesus movement would cause a riot and bring punitive actions by the Romans. Thus, most people with any power in Jerusalem felt that it was essential to get Jesus out of the picture, but taking action would likely backfire and bring about the very public disorder that they feared. Jesus was teaching in the temple as though he owned it, and for a moment they could do nothing to stop him because the crowd loved him.

Well, we know what was coming. It would be only a matter of days before they could actually stop Jesus. Thanks to the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, they managed to arrest him in the dark of night when Jesus was not surrounded by a crowd, but was praying in the garden of Gethesemane, accompanied only by his sleep-drowsy disciples. They arrested him and, as we all know, arranged for his execution. The Jesus movement was dead.

Or so it seemed for a short time, but it was not to be. The Roman historian Tacitus, who was highly unsympathetic to Christianity reported with chagrin,

"Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome ... "(Annals 15.44).

Tacitus did not mention the reason for the virtually instantaneous revival of the Christian religion. It was based on the conviction by his followers that he had been resurrected, and, given the total picture, they would not have entertained that belief if it was not grounded in reality. The plot to eliminate Jesus was doomed from the start. Death would not be a barrier to him.


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Thursday, November 27th 2014


Black Friday in the Temple

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: filled and thankful
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Football!

Sugar and SunakoThis day is designated as one on which to be thankful, so I shall not engage in any whining. June and I have much to be thankful for, and whatever troubling issues there may be vanish pretty quickly in light of the larger picture. We’re spending today with Nick & Meghan while Seth & Amber are in Crawfordsville with her parents. When I say that we are
at N&M’s, I certainly don’t want to slight the all-important Sunako. In addition, Sugar, the friendly Pitbull who belongs to Meghan’s brother, is here for the weekend.

Luke 19:45,46

But to get to the point. Having entered Jerusalem hailed as messiah, King Jesus entered the temple and immediately had a fit of anger. The outer area of the temple complex looked like the livestock section of a 4-H fair, filled with animals and birds. With Passover coming up, the number of good rural folks from the surrounding villages selling animals was probably larger than usual. They were doing so under the supervision of the priests, who thereby were enlarging the temple
fund (if not their own wealth). But only the specific coins called “temple shekels” could be used for making payments in the temple. Interestingly, these were coins minted in Tyre, displaying the Greek god Zeus with a falcon on one side and Alexander the Great in his persona of Zeus-Ammon on the other. These coins could not be used for any other form of commerce; consequently, the presence of money changers was as essential as the availability of animals to sacrifice.

Temple Scheqel 1Temple Sheqel 2

A quick word about the parallel accounts of this story. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) recount the same event at the same time in the life of Jesus. Among them, it is Mark whose account has more details, one of the factors that leads us to identify Mark as the first gospel written. John also tells us about a very similar event occurring at Passover time earlier on in Jesus’ ministry, assuming that John’s gospel maintains a chronological sequence. Either way
there is no problem; there wouldn’t be any good reason why, after Jesus had cleaned up the area once, he shouldn’t be doing it again three years later. Could there have been two cleansings of the temple? Why not? After all, the musical production that has become a part of our Thanksgiving tradition includes the idea of not just one, but two Thanksgiving dinners that couldn’t be beat.

Jesus’ behavior, no doubt, was considered rather objectionable by most everyone around. Luke is relatively laconic about the event and just states that he drove out the sellers. The other synoptics, Matthew and Mark, both mention that he turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who sold pigeons, Mark alone says that he also did not permit the transportation of any large goods through the area. John’s account includes the detail that Jesus enforced his
will with a whip he made out of ropes on the spur of the moment.

There’s no need to belabor the obvious fact that the prevalent image of Jesus walking around Judea as a Caspar Milquetoast figure has found a rather significant counterpoint here. So I won’t even mention it.

The big question is, of course, why Jesus was so incensed at the commerce carried outside of the area where Jews actually worshiped God. They needed animals, and they needed to get their money changed in order to be able to purchase the animals. I don’t think that we need to accuse the sellers or money changers of fraud other than the time-honored practice of letting the prices find their maximum when people don’t have other alternatives.

The significance of what Jesus did can be found in the words that he spoke, along with a consideration of where this event took place. “Stop turning my father’s house into a marketplace!” Okay, the location is clear, then, by calling it his father’s house Jesus makes it clear that these commercial ventures were taking place within the temple precinct.

I deliberately stated earlier that the tables were outside of the worship area of the Jews. But they were in the space reserved for Gentiles. No non-Jew was permitted to enter the court of the Israelites, but they were not excluded from the temple per se. They had a space where they could worship Yahweh, even if they were not a part of the chosen people—unless the area was obstructed by merchants and money changers. Certainly those facilities were necessary, but their place should
have been outside of the sacred precincts, not where Gentiles could come and pray.. With his demonstration of anger, Jesus anticipated the marvelous news that his death on the cross would not only benefit the Jews, but the people of all nations.

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Saturday, November 22nd 2014


Vegetarian Meatmarket

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: carnivorous

It just had to happen sooner or later.

30 years ago: I was driving along in our Chevy Vega 4-door station wagon, a wonderful car, well-suited for the universal speed limit of 55 mph during that time since one wouldn't dare drive it any faster. Not only that, but its radio was working as well. As I was tooling along, I was contemplating the phenomenon of people looking at religion, specifically Christianity, as a means to get ahead in the material world. Right about then the man on the radio read his little commercial for So-and-so's Meatmarket (no longer in existence, I'm afraid). An image popped into my head of the church as an institution existing solely in order to give everyone whatever makes them the most comfortable---kind of like a vegetarian meatmarket. The song virtually wrote itself. It's always been one of my favorites, right up there with the poetry and music I had created a little earlier for June, casually known as the furniture moving song.

Four CowsToday: I took a pound of hamburger meat out of the freezer early this afternoon in order to use it for spaghetti sauce this evening. I quickly glanced at the label on the plastic wrapper and noticed that there was more information on it than the usual list of ingredients, and so I read it carefully. You might think that there should only be one ingredient listed, namely "ground beef," and that was, indeed, the case. However, the label also informed us of what was not included. For one thing, it did not have much fat. June and I prefer to get the lean variety, and I read that the distribution between "lean" meat and "fat" was 92% to 8%. Good. Lesser quality is cheaper, but what good is that when half of it just turns into grease. Still, we've only just begun with what other good news the label conveyed:

  • No added hormones ... Again good. Allegedly the injection of hormones into meat has played havoc with the bodies of some American children; for example, causing an earlier onset of puberty than in the past. I don't know enough to make a fully informed decision on the medical and physiological merits of that charge, but, all other things being equal, I'd just as soon have my meat without bovine growth hormones.
  • ... or antibiotics. That one puzzles me a little bit. I mean, if the cow gets sick wouldn't you want to give her whatever she needs to get better? My hunch is that some people may worry that antibiotics are over-prescribed in America anyway, and that adding them to our food will create such an overload in our bodies that we lose our natural internal immunities. So, presumably, some of those people try to avoid absorbing any antibiotics whatsoever, including ones that may be retained in the meat they ingest. Again, I must plead not having sufficient information at hand to make a firm ruling one way or the other, but I dislike the way people reduce such matters to a single possibility. Whether we take too many prescribed antibiotics on the whole is one question, and a good one. The likelihood that our own immune systems get overworked by consumption of artificially induced bovine antibodies, in lieu of those that the animal would have produced on its own anyway, is another matter, and it strikes me as fairly low. Then again, one wants the fewest amounts of added chemicals in one's meat, but it's a matter of finding the right balance. I prefer meat from healthy animals and with as few chemicals as possible. I don't think that one can (or should) reduce such issues to absolute one-sided declarations.
  • CowVegetarian Fed. This is the part that has me really, though figuratively, scratching my head (not literally ever since I switched to some awful-smelling tar-based shampoo). What is actually being said by that assertion? I'm ruling out immediately that the phrase is an abbreviation for "Vegetarian Federation" and thus might imply that this brand of ground beef is approved for vegetarians. That would be just a little too unusual, even in our world, as cluttered as it is with bizarre events, most of them documented faithfully on YouTube nowadays.
    • Conceivably, the phrase could be interpreted as meaning that only vegetarians were allowed to feed the cows that would ultimately wind up as ground beef. However, that idea comes with some serious issues as well. Please reflect on it: Would it really make a difference whether cows receive their daily hay from carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores? Wouldn't such a practice discriminate against people who eat meat? Why would one be in the beef business anyway if one objected to eating it?
    • So, I take it that it means that the cow has been on a vegetarian diet for all of her life. Okay, that claim would be a little more rational, but isn't that usually the case for cows? Remember that I was a zoology major in college (see my t-shirt in the video below), and I learned that cows are classified as grazers, viz. they eat grass and, should the friendly farmer supply it, corn. Grass and corn are forms of vegetation, so their natural diet is "vegetarian," though I must say that the adjective "vergetarian" is being used quite whimsically here. Cows are grazing herbivores, not "vegetarians." They don't eat meat; they don't like it, and they couldn't digest it if they did. Do other packages of meat come from carnivorous cows?
    • I have an odd feeling that there may be some more serious matter behind that assertion, and that maybe I should see if there's anything on the web about it. In the meantime, I suspect that this is as close as I shall ever come to seeing the concept of "vegetarian meat" exemplified in the real world.

So, here's the song. I'm afraid the quality of the recording has done nothing to enhance the quality of the one being recorded since I just did it on a whim tonight. It does fit into the category of "Lest I forget all of my songs." If you're looking for a Bible passage to go with it, be sure to turn to 2 Timothy 3:1-5.


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Thursday, November 20th 2014


Dominus Flevit

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: somewhat dreary

A few thoughts on various things.

It has been a very slow week for me. It seems as though everything I'm doing takes three times the normal effort and time--when I can get myself to do it. But I know I'll get out of this hole again; it's just once again taking longer than I thought. These are my typical November feelings.

The first significant snowfall of this season has come and--remained. On Monday morning a good inch of the white stuff was sitting on vehicles that haven't been moved and on front lawns, and even the roads in town weren't cleared until Wednesday. Earlier in the week the temperatures were in the teens (°F), and we had single digits several nights. We are picking right back up where we left off not so long ago. It's only the middle of November, and we're already looking at January weather.

Saturday night was the last Cowboy Church of the "season." In previous years they did not take a break during winter, and, of course, the regular church itself (Trinity Methodist of Hartford City) will keep going. But after having to deal with blizzards and their ilk last year, the consensus was that there shouldn't be any Saturday night events for the next three months or so. The good thing about that decision is that I personally won't have to decide whether to drive out there on potentially bad evenings. The drawback is that I won't have it to decide about, and I will miss it greatly for this hiatus.  Last Saturday night went well, and, if I may say so myself, we finished with a good program. The regular crew was there, and there was a special guest group of about eight men (six guitars, one banjo, and one electric bass) and one woman vocalist. I'm afraid I don't remember their names either as a group or individuals. The lady's singing was of professional quality in the country gospel genre. Some of the other players were pretty good, though the gentleman playing the banjo pretty much dominated their presentation. One guitar player really stood out the two or three times that he was given about three bars of playing lead. Another one got some fascinating mandolin-style licks on his guitar. After their part of the program, when we all came together for a few songs, I let their bass player carry on and took the opportunity to play my harmonicas.

The following comments are not about any particular group, just a general observation by the curmudgeon in me, except insofar as they were sparked by the visiting group's self-reference as "bluegrass." It appears that nowadays any amateur group with limited vocal ability and either a banjo or mandolin among their instruments  calls itself "bluegrass." It doesn't work that way. Just as with any genre of music, there are "rules." Now, that's a funny way of putting it since obviously anybody is free to play whatever or however they want to. But to be called "bluegrass," a musical presentation should have certain characteristics. Bluegrass music, as it was formalized by Bill Monroe in the 1930's, developed on the radio, and it is extremely microphone centered. A description on Google Play summarizes that bluegrass music requires "a five-piece acoustic string band, playing precisely and rapidly, switching solos and singing in a plaintive, high lonesome voice." In other words, there are five or so musicians, playing typically a banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and string bass. Some of them may sing harmony with the main vocalist, following the traditional pattern of parallel fourths (C--F; D--G; A--D; etc.). In between the verses of the songs are lengthy musical interludes during which the player whose instrument is featured will step up to the mike and display his virtuosity. Brother-in-law Tom, who is (slowly) building his legend as mandolin phenom, told me that in a bluegrass setting the banjo and the mandolin never play melody lines simultaneously. When the banjo has its turn, the mandolin just keeps time with simple downward strums, and vice versa. In my observations, the guitar is frequently almost as much in the background as the bass. If the guitar player has a solo part, it usually consists of picking. Bill Monroe inspired a lot of enthusiasm for his new style, but he appeared to have been torn between wanting to have inaugurated a new genre and resenting any other bluegrass group as imitators.

In the video below Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys are performing an instrumental number. So, you'll see how they take turns at the single microphone. YouTube has many more examples.

Switching topics rapidly again, I'm enjoying a number of ongoing back-and-forth matches of "Words with Friends" with friends on FB. My win-loss percentage is still heavily on the loss side, and I would have to win an enormous number of games without losing to bring it up to 50%, so I try to merely think in terms of playing against myself when I find that I'm 150 or more points behind my opponent halfway through a game. I have discovered (not that much of a search was necessary) that there are applications on the web that find words for you to your specification, as you input the letters available to you. Let me simply say that I won't use such a program, and I'm assuming that neither are my friends because that would make the game pointless.

Luke Bible Study

Read the Text!

Bible Reading:
Luke 19:41-44

v. 41: As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it. (HCSB)

The Mount of Olives faces the eastern side of Jerusalem. As I wrote the other day, it is right across from the Eastern Gate (The "Golden Gate") of the temple. Over the centuries many Jews have made a point out of being buried on the Mount of Olives so that they would be among the first who will rise and see the messiah enter Jerusalem by that gate. Of course, I can respond with the observation that, if they had been alive at the right moment, they would, indeed, have seen Jesus, the messiah, proceed along that path.

Dominus FlevitThe procession included a little interlude that Luke had not mentioned earlier. When Jesus had Jerusalem in full view, he stopped to weep over the city because he foresaw the destruction it would undergo. -- For the sake of anyone who might get confused on this bit of trivia, this verse is NOT the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," which we find in John 11:35. The occasion that time was his grief over the death of Lazarus, whom he then resurrected. -- Here Jesus is showing his sadness for Jerusalem, knowing that it would not be too long before the city would be decimated, as happened in AD 70 by the hands of the Romans.

There is a little chapel on top of the Mount of Olives, called the Dominus Flevit Church. Dominus Flevit is Latin for "The Lord wept." The small building has the shape of a teardrop and is decorated with similar forms.

I don't want to get into any big issues right now, but just ask the question of myself as much as of you: Do we weep for the lost? I don't necessarily mean actual tears dripping out of our eyes, but simply a strong regret that they are missing out on the greatest gift in the world, eternal life. In many ways we have good reason to see various non-Christian persons, groups, or institutions as our "opponents,"given their actions. ISIS (ISIL) is just one extreme example. It's very hard to keep from getting carried away and letting our attitude turn into hatred. To be sure we must do what is necessary to defend those who cannot defend themselves, but we should do so with a heavy heart. Whether we're talking about the tortures carried out by Islamic extremists abroad or about hurdles erected by bureaucrats at home, let's not forget that, regardless of what they may get away with at the moment, they're on the losing side. There will be an end to their arrogance, and hopefully we have not become so inured that we don't feel sorry for them because of what their final fate will be.

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Sunday, November 16th 2014


The Return of Aïsha

  • IN THE BACKDROP: Fossils and Foxes

The Return of Aïsha. I wrote and attempted to post this entry on Friday evening, but things went haywire with the transfer of coding once again so that I had to pull it immediately. Then I forgot about having withdrawn it and labored under the assumption that it was already there for the world to see. I'm retrying now on Sunday afternoon. It may come and go a few times over the next hour or so, but hopefully I can get my code to harmonize with Bravenet's expectations. Worst case scenario: If this means anything to you, I may have to rewrite everything in internal CSS format.

Leonhard Euler

A wonderful afternoon back at good old Taylor U. Kevin Diller, my successor as it were, had invited me to give a talk on militant Islam to his class on Western Religions. In the process, I also ran into some previous colleagues and some of those who would have been colleagues, had I been able to stay. The class room for the presentation was in the new (to me) Euler Science Complex. The name, by the way, is supposed to be pronounced “Yuhler,” not, as it would be in German, as “Oiler.” It is named after the donors of the building, not after the famous mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707 -1783), who is frequently ranked right at the top of the all-time field: Euclid, Pythagoras, Newton, Leibniz, Gauss, and Riemann--choose your order. Which is not to say that the donors do not deserve to have their name on the building or to have it pronounced in the form to which they are accustomed, but I also like the thought that Taylor might have named an academic building after a truly outstanding hero of academic history. One of L. Euler’s most beloved contributions is the equation that combines some of the most important constants in mathematics,

eπi +1=0.

where e (named after Euler) is the base of the natural logarithm, 2.718 ...,
π is the familiar 3.14...,
and i is the square root of -1, i. e. √- 1;
We should think of 1 as the "multiplicative identity constant" (i.e. any number multiplied by 1 remains the same),
and of 0 as the "additive identity constant" (i.e. any number plus 0 remains the same number).

The students in the class struck me as very much like the students I had to leave behind, friendly and clearly serious about learning—a wonderfully attentive audience. There’s not much one can cover in one class period; I basically gave the story of neo-Kharijite Islam, eventually leading up to ISIS. Most of what I said is contained in the material of my recent entry on ISIS. I stressed the historical background a little more perhaps than in that post. Needless to say, much of the content is contained in Neighboring Faiths, 2nd ed., except for ISIS, which was not yet in existence when I made the additions to the new edition. Also, just to add a slightly different angle, I tried as much as I could to observe the early history of the caliphate through the eyes of Aïsha, Muhammad’s young and spunky widow.

I alluded to Aïsha in the post to which I referred above. Let me add a few more details. As everyone knows (assuming the historicity of the hadith), Aïsha was betrothed to Muhammad at a very young age, and that the marriage was consummated when she was still far too young for such things by our standards. She was Muhammad’s favorite wife for the last nine years of his life, and she supported him publicly throughout that time. However, she had a head of her own right from the start and was not above criticizing the prophet himself in private, e.g., for him claiming to have had revelations that took him out of inconvenient situations. When Muhammad was on his death bed, the other wives conceded that he could stay in her quarters because they all knew that Muhammad and Aïsha had a special relationship, something that had been missing from his life during the most turbulent years of his career, which occurred (not without connection) after the death of his first wife, Khadija, his only wife as long as she lived. (There is actually no certainty on how many wives Muhammad had later on; 10 or 12 are popular options.)

After Muhammad’s death, Aïsha got involved in the ensuing political matters, particularly the issue of who would be the caliph (Muhammad’s successor for the community). That honor turned out to go to Abu Bakr, Aïsha’s father, so things went swimmingly for her for a while. She also approved of the second caliph, Umar (another father-in-law to Muhammad), but the political aspect of the Islamic world was heading towards great turmoil. Umar was assassinated, and the next caliph, Uthman, perhaps best known for collecting the authoritative edition of the Qur’an, was not as good a leader as his two predecessors. Uthman was of the clan of the Umayyads, who had not that long ago been Muhammad’s strongest opponents, and he lacked the charisma that would unite people under him. Aïsha took a strong dislike to Uthman because he apparently committed some acts of cruelty. However, when another man, namely the new Muslim official who was supposedly delegated to govern Egypt on behalf of the caliph, humiliated and eventually killed Uthman, she was outraged. Aïsha entertained a strong hope that the next caliph (Ali ben Talib) would avenge Uthman’s death. It was one thing to oppose him politically; it was quite another to mock and kill him and his wives. I’m not sure to what extent she communicated those thoughts to Ali, but it makes sense that she would have done so, if not in person, then at least by messenger.

Battle of the Camel

What made the matter awkward from Aïsha’s perspective was that she did not really care for Ali all that much either. For one thing he had been seeking the caliphate in competition with her father (Abu Bakr); for another his spine was just weak enough that he could be manipulated into changing his mind on crucial issues, sometimes as though it were on a whim at the very last moment before some action should have been taken. So, Aïsha may not have been surprised that Ali did not pursue those who had abused Uthman, and, as mentioned, she was furious with him. In the greater context, Ali’s most important opponent was a man named Muawiyah, another member of the Umayyad clan, who was basing his claim to be caliph on the simple notion that the Umayyads had always been the political leaders in Mecca and should continue along that line. Both Ali and Muawiyah were odious to Aïsha, but she was particularly angry at Ali for letting the mistreatment of one of Muhammad’s Companions (i.e. Uthman) go unpunished.

So, Aïsha, now around thirty years old, gathered an army to confront Ali and his followers in pitched battle. She personally served as commander of her troops, perching on top of a camel behind the lines so that she could have a clear view of the field and give orders as necessary. Thus, ever since then this encounter has been known as the “Battle of the Camel.” Sadly for Aïsha, Ali’s troops were stronger than hers, and she lost the battle. Ali’s men captured her, and Ali had her escorted back to Mecca. She remained there for a short while, and then moved back to her original home in Medina. Her days of political involvement were over, but she taught the message of the prophet and became one of the most important sources for the secondary writings concerning Muhammad, known as the hadith. (In case you were wondering earlier, that's how we know about some of her private conversations with her husband.)

From there, the story goes on as described in many places with the assassination of Ali by some Kharijites, the Umayyads hanging on to the caliphate for another century or so, and the permanent split between Sunna and Shi’a. And one other thing: Later on there have been some women who made contributions to Islamic culture in the subsequent history of Islam, but none with the genuine lasting impact of Aïsha.

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Thursday, November 13th 2014


A couple of quick updates

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: headache

This entry will merely be an update on a couple of matters. My appointment yesterday with Dr. B went really well. He gave me exactly the reassurance I needed. Thanks for your prayers.

"Can you hear me now?" -- Probably not, and that's okay. More importantly, one of the items on our doctor's appointment list that I mentioned the other day was a visit for June to an audiologist on Monday. Yesterday morning she fitted her with a set of hearing aids, and suddenly she could once again hear things that she didn't even know were there. I wish everyone could have seen the look on her face when she wore a trial set just for a little while on Monday. The audiology doctor, let's call her Dr. D, asked her how she could have been functioning these last few years, a very pertinent question since she had about 90% loss in one ear and close to that in the other. Her brain must have taken whatever sounds came through and provided a reasonable context for them, though we both know it did not work at all times.

The interesting question of how she could have been functioning was also asked earlier on Monday by the opthalmologist. We knew June had cataracts and that she needed surgery for them, but we didn't realize that she had actually lost about 70% of her vision in one eye and, again, close to that in another. The laser surgeries are planned for the middle of December: one eye one week, and the other one the next. We are glad that we've been able to make and keep these appointments and that the doctors are finding good stuff to do for her. At the same time, nothing goes without at least a little anxiety, so the request for your thoughts and prayers are ongoing.

That will have to be all for the moment. Chances are that, as short as this update is, I probably still managed to forget one or two things I wanted to mention. They'll have to wait for tomorrow or so.

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Tuesday, November 11th 2014


Peace and the Coming King

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: somewhat nervous

For what it's worth, for those who read my recent FB comment of frustration, I've gone back completely to writing out code on Notepad, and I'm going to try to stay as far away as I can from any wysiwyg programs--at least until I get lazy again.

This week is fairly cluttered for June and me, one of the reasons being doctor’s appointments. Among them is my visit tomorrow to Dr. B, my neurologist, and—as is frequently the case—there’s a bit of anxiety connected to it. I would like to ask for your prayer specifically that I will be able to state clearly (or at least intelligibly) what I am experiencing, and that he would understand and respond patiently. That's not meant to be a reflection on him. He's a really good guy, and I dedicated my Chronicles commentary to him, but I get flustered in communicating with doctors at times. Thanks.

Today (Tuesday) is Veterans Day, a day that is celebrated around here with the rite of the empty mailbox. Around this time it is also frequent practice to have veterans stand up at various public occasions and receive applause. Can we honor veterans in other, perhaps more concrete ways? It’s all very well for us to hang out flags and say “Hurrah for the veterans!” But let me make one quick suggestion, if I may. There are VA Hospital’s in many cities in this country. Many of them are vastly understaffed and can use a lot of volunteer help. I’m going to abstain from any self-serving comments (though I guess I'm implying them), but would like to put forth something for your consideration. If anyone wants to do something for those among our veterans who are really hurting and in need, you might look at exploring the possibility of providing volunteer help at one of those hospitals. Specifically, you could make contact with the chaplain’s office to see if they have anything that you could do. Please note that I’m saying you could, not that you should, but it may be a far more useful way of saying “thank you” than mere gestures. Of course, it will work better if a group gets involved in such a ministry, but (in my experience) there is lots of room for individuals as well.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no need for a Veterans’ Day because there weren’t any wars? The Bible promises that there will be peace on earth, and that, perhaps paradoxically, it will be brought about by an extremely powerful and totally autocratic government, namely by God himself. I’m talking about the millennium, when Satan will be bound in chains for 1,000 years, and Christ himself will rule the earth for 1000 years, prior to the final conflict, the last judgment, and the end state of God’s new creation. During the millennium, prophecies such as Isaiah 11:6 will be fulfilled.

As an interlude, if you will permit me, here is an instrumental version of the song, “Peace in the Valley,” written by Thomas A. Dorsey. I put this together a few years ago, and I know I’ve posted it at least once before, but I think it’s appropriate. The lyrics of the last verse (where the harmonica takes the lead) are directly from that passage in Isaiah.

Well, the bear will be gentle, and the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb.
And the beasts from the wild shall be led by a little child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am.

Luke Bible Study

Read the Text!

Bible Reading:
Luke 19:28-40

v. 38 The King who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven! (HCSB)

In today’s passage, Jesus very clearly declared that he was the king, the messiah. After all, it was he who sent his disciples into Jerusalem in order to fetch a donkey on which he could ride down into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley, a path that, not-so-by-the-way, would have led him pretty much straight to the temple. And he told the people who objected to this parade that it was totally necessary. If the people were not allowed to give him acclaim, then the stones would have to take over that role. The recognition of his kingship was essential to his ministry.


Now, it is also true that Jesus knew that this gesture on his part was not going to lead to the establishment of the messianic kingdom at that time. He was completely aware of the very facts that he himself had predicted, namely, that he would be betrayed, tortured, and killed. He also would have known that he would be resurrected and that he would ascend to heaven. Nonetheless, even though this part of his future was apparent to him, he knew that the people needed to be able to realize that it was their own true king who had been mocked, beaten, and executed. This awareness on the part of the people would come after his death and resurrection.

There is no question, then, that his followers had not yet come to terms with the suffering and atoning aspect of his kingship. Luke tells us in v. 36 that the people were praising God "joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen." I imagine that any number of them were hoping for a super-sized miracle once Jesus entered the city. The gospel of John states explicitly that many of the people had come because they were curious to see the person who had raised Lazarus from death. Understanding that fact makes it a little bit easier to see how the crowd — if it was the same people — could turn so quickly from “hosanna!” To “Crucify him!”

The point that I want to make is this: The fact that Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection shows that this entry into Jerusalem, was not a plan gone wrong when he was crucified a week later. Jesus did not expect to take over political power from the Herod clan, the Sadducees, and the Romans and then see his intentions collapse into martyrdom. God did not resort to a secondary contingency plan that utilized Christ’s death as atonement and defeated Satan with a new, and heretofore unplanned, strategy that did not backfire. All of the events — the miracles, his predictions, the demonstration of his kingship, his death on the cross, and his resurrection — were all already included in the reasons for why the Son of God had come to earth.

The triumphal entry was significant, and not an empty celebration that wound up constituting an overture to tragedy. Because Jesus had given so much evidence of his messianic kingship, and, furthermore, that he had done so within the context of demonstrating that he was God incarnate, we know that he went through the events that followed for the sake of reconciling us to God.

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